October is the tenth month of the year. It is also the second of the dreaded ember months. So all of us should be grateful for making it thus far.
After all, a lot of healthier and more privileged people had passed on already.
This October makes it the 58th year of our nationhood. So the nation should be grateful for making 58 in spite of the many challenges bedevilling our nation state. After all, more seemingly cohesive, more developed countries have disintegrated with many disintegrating by the day.
In any case, our culture and main religions teach us to always be grateful for whatever situation we find ourselves in. If you have no shoe, think of the man with no leg; if you have no roof over your head, then think of the person in the grave.
And so it goes…. While I don’t doubt the veracity of this saying and the need to count our blessings, I question the life of unquestioning acceptance it encourages and the resultant life of mediocrity it makes us to live. I also constantly fret over its manipulation by our leaders across generations.
These manipulations come to the fore every year during ‘state of the Union’ speeches especially on Independence Day. I have witnessed a lot of Independence Day anniversaries as a professional chronicler and the pattern is always the same. The day starts with some high profile religious service. It dovetails to a parade where the strength of our unity, the military, is showcased.
There, carefully selected ‘representatives’ of the people, the so called masses, are seated –and sometimes kitted in ‘aso ebi’ -while the leaders in full regalia – irrespective of whether they are military or civilian – occupy the exalted seats.
The speech that follows is so predictable that I could write one in my sleep. It is usually a score card of the ruling government at its perfunctory best. It talks about the intentions of the current leaders and the wish to transform the country to a modern State.
It talks in general terms, about the roads, the bridges, the schools and the hospitals they have built. And sensing that they might not be enough, the speech writer invariably veers into our sentimental past. He reminds us that we must not take our unity and security for granted.
God has a plan for us. He did not make us the most populous black nation in the world for nothing. Every Nigerian leader always harps on the security and unity of the country even when his actions have taken us to the brink of disintegration; even when he is a product of a coup or an electoral fraud – without addressing how we can foster that unity.
There is very little serious introspection done on Independence Day. No serious attempt to look the realities of our situation in the face and proffer deep seated solutions. Our problems, made intractable by our unwillingness to confront them, are again glossed over and if touched upon at all, are buck passed.
It is always the preceding administration that has mismanaged the resources of the country. Yet there is very little difference between the administrations if only they can see it. Even their speeches are boringly alike.
No Nigerian leader while in power believes there is anything wrong with the status quo that a little fine tuning will not solve. None has seen the inequitable system we operate as a problem because to do that is to see himself and his class of elites as a problem. And so we sink, day by day, inch by inch, into the abyss of underdevelopment and a failing State.
Often when the speech starts with ‘Fellow Nigerians’, or when it comes to the part where the speaker equates himself with the listeners in any way, I am tempted to think of George Orwell’s ‘Animal farm’. We all know that we are not ‘fellow Nigerians’ together in any material way and the ‘we’ in their speeches is not inclusive. Despite what they mouth, these guys don’t know what we suffer.
They don’t feel our pains. When they are sick, they go to the best hospitals abroad while we go to local hospitals without personnel or equipment. Their children don’t attend neighbourhood schools here.
They go to branded institutions in Europe. They don’t know what it is to run homes or companies where you are your own local government. They are government pickins. In short, they don’t know what deprivation, what hunger, what a hustle, is like. So when they say they feel our pains, that better days are in the horizon, we should know the realities don’t match that fact.
If we had any doubt about their apathy or disconnect with us, the case of Leah Sharibu quickly puts it to rest. Leah is the poor girl who was captured with some of her school mates. While the others were released, she was not; ostensibly because of her religion. She is also the child of a poor peasant family in a poor peasant village.
She is not the daughter of Alhaji and Mrs Buhari, or Pastor and Mrs Osinbajo, or Alhaji and Mrs Saraki, or Pastor and Mrs Dogara. She is not the daughter of any of the party financiers or any of the country’s influential contractors.
If she were, she would have been freed by now irrespective of religious or party affiliations. The elites have a way of closing ranks when facedwith an existential threat. This October, according to her Boko Haram abductors, is her date with destiny and the fear in the Sharibu family is palpable.
Let us spare a thought and a prayer for her. Let us spare a thought and a prayer for her family. Especially those of us who are parents. What if she was our daughter?
But it is not only the Anniversary Day speech that is predictable. The yearly flagellation is also predictable. The news media will as usual, go to town to talk to people about the state of the nation and the usual verdict is that we have never had it so bad.
We seem to derive pleasure from this annual ritual of self -flogging without galvanising ourselves to confront the causes of the malaise. And so, the annual cycle of self-denial and self-deceit goes on.
This October is different in one particular instance though. It is the month those who are going to run- or loot – our country from next year are being decided. The method they are using across the parties, is again predictable in its intrigues and lack of transparency. It is as usual, patently unrepresentative. Yet one of them is going to mount the rostrum during next year’s Anniversary Day – surrounded by some of the others in flowing regalia- with the same rhetoric of deceit that starts with ‘Fellow Nigerians…’